First person shooters are traditionally a brown affair, full of gritty realism and violence. There are exceptions but they’re few and far between, which makes Lovely Planet all the more effective with its colourful aesthetic and Katamari Damacy-like visual design.
Lovely Planet is not your typical FPS though, it’s more of a score attack game with levels rarely lasting longer than a minute, most lasting under thirty seconds. Enemies consist primarily of squares with frowning faces that shoot purple cubes in your direction, and any hit you take resets the level. It may sound harsh, but it works well in a twitch shooter like this and it helps you develop your reflexes and memory as you’re forced to negotiate that pesky map one more time.
Controlling the action is simple as you move with the WiiU Gamepad’s left stick, looking around with the right. ZL jumps, ZR shoots and L snaps to your nearest target to help cope with the speed of the action. There’s no denying that controller aiming is an issue however, especially in later levels when the action can become almost impossible to follow. Stick aiming is too sensitive and ends up imprecise as a result, something the target-snapping feature is often a big help with, but it just isn’t enough when things are flying in every direction.
Level design keeps things flowing nicely most of the time, with its floating platforms of bright colours and its tight corners with blue walls, enemies hiding behind them. Some are straight lines, no more than a jump or two required to negotiate any obstacles, but others bend and cross back over themselves, leading to confusion as you take out an enemy’s platform, only to find out that you needed it later to jump across to the finishing post. Luckily, a level restart is always a button press away, not unlike the Trials games with their instant restarts.
The level design is aided by the wonderful art, with its odd, floating smart phones and tiny mountain villages, but it does suffer from lack of variety as you progress further into the game. Environments look the same no matter which world you’re playing, with only minor tweaks here and there to match that world’s theme. It feels like a wasted opportunity, considering the potential shown in the first world, but it’s by no means game-ruining.
Each level offers stars for your performance, relating to your time taken to get to the finish. This is where the score attack fans will find their replayability as they constantly try to improve their times and earn that elusive third star on that one particular level. With five worlds containing a total of a hundred levels, that’s an awful lot of game for your money and getting three stars for every one will not be an easy task. But if you want to just take your time and get to know the levels, you can do that too. You’ll learn when that apple will be launched through the air, knowing you have to shoot it before it lands, and you’ll discover where that enemy is hiding or which way you need to aim after teleporting to that platform in the later areas – all will aid in your enjoyment of Lovely Planet as you seek to gain the rewards you’re due for your efforts.
It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. The levels can get very repetitive as the game overuses certain mechanics in an attempt to teach you something new about its gameplay, not quite trusting the player to get it after a couple of levels. Once it starts throwing apples, it really starts throwing them, often two at a time and none of them are allowed to hit the ground – which can lead to some frustration as you just want to see something new. It also suffers from some pretty steep difficulty curves at times, which can be all the more frustrating when the goal is in sight and you’ve just navigated a particularly tough section, only for some hidden enemy or spawning red blob to end your progress in the blink of an eye.
These kinds of things could have been avoided if the sound design had as much quality as the visual design. More distinctive cues for enemies would help determine where the danger is coming from, instead of silence being your downfall. The complete lack of Gamepad audio is also baffling, especially as the entire game is playable on the smaller screen, and having the ability to use headphones would make things that little bit more accessible – not to mention it would make sense, allowing the TV to be used by somebody else as you blast away at Lovely Planet. It would also have enabled you to really enjoy the gorgeous, catchy soundtrack that perfectly compliments both the visual design and the gameplay style.
With a few tweaks, Lovely Planet could be fantastic on WiiU, perfect for bite-sized gaming. Unfortunately it veers a little too hard into the difficult a little too quickly and ends up as more of a ‘hardcore’ game as a result. Nothing wrong with that of course, except that it feels like it may not have been the developer’s intent. Instead of a fantastic game, it’s simply a good one.
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